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Trump and Clinton fight for Michigan in final days of campaign

Nov 5, 2016

The presidential race is not over in Michigan.

Donald Trump doesn’t think so. New polls show his 13-point gap has been narrowed to three points in just two weeks. That’s why two of his kids hit the state again. It’s why his running mate was here. It’s why Trump is looking to land here sometime over the weekend.

Hillary Clinton knows it’s not over here, either. Her husband paid a surprise visit to black ministers in Detroit Wednesday. She rallied would-be supporters in Detroit Friday at a “Get out the Vote” event. The name tells you everything you need to know - Barack Obama’s reliable African-American base is not turning out to be so reliable for the former secretary of state.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way in Michigan. Clinton support among African-Americans is an article of Democratic faith - until it isn’t. The state hasn’t backed a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988. It’s home to the United Auto Workers and the modern labor movement, to the largest minority-majority major city in America, to a domestic auto industry that owes its survival to the Democrat currently sitting in the White House.

Credit Lower Community College / Creative Commons

Yes, Michigan should be a slam dunk for Democrats this year. Its Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is mostly missing-in-public-action thanks to his administration’s mishandling of the Flint water crisis. And Trump has made a sport out of bashing Ford Motor Co., distorting Michigan’s manufacturing rebound, and trashing political norms with endless bragging and impolitic shots at women, minorities, the disabled. 

But Michigan is also the home to the “Reagan Democrats” who spurned liberalism and voted Republican. Nativism still courses through parts of the body politic here, especially the blue-collar crowd. They’ve lived the threat posed by foreign competition and globalization. They see the cynicism of the coastal elite’s bias against American metal and the companies that build it.

For all his manifest flaws, Trump’s messages of economic nationalism and a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington are coming at just the right time. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is being slammed by renewed FBI scrutiny of her emails, by a federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation, by a torrent of revelations courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Whether any of that will be enough to cost Clinton her predicted win in Michigan - or the election itself - remains to be seen. But an old adage holds as much in politics as it does in business: 

Pay attention to what people do, not what they say. The actions say both camps believe Michigan and its 16 electoral votes still are in play. Clinton wouldn’t have appeared in Detroit Friday if her campaign’s internal polling didn’t affirm that her lead is slipping. Neither she nor her husband would be in Detroit at this late stage if the campaign didn’t see evidence of a widening enthusiasm gap among African-American voters.

But with just days to go, Clinton is scrambling to do the work she took for granted - which tells you why Team Trump is nearby. It sees opportunity.